SEX AND SPORTS – THEY’RE INSEPARABLE

I must confess I never understood sexy cheerleaders, since every sport I ever played in, the coach screamed at me to “Focus!” and how can you focus when a pretty girl in a skimpy skirt is jumping up and down and squealing?

Still, I just accepted it. Boys played. Girls cheered. This was before our current age of enlightenment, which includes both the U.S. women’s soccer team and the Laker Girls, proving we’re not really enlightened, just confused.

This brings us to the recent controversy over the Pistons swimsuit calendar.

It’s not the Pistons in swimsuits. It’s a calendar of their professional dance team, Automotion. These are women who dance during the breaks at Pistons games. They are generally young, attractive and – can I use this word? – shapely. And their shapes are shown off by the skimpy swimsuits in the calendar. Which, if we’re being honest, is kind of the point.

The calendar is in its fifth year, its third with swimsuits. It never attracted much attention before. According to team officials, it sells a few thousand copies each season and barely covers costs, with any profit going to charities.

But recently, the calendar – and dancers – got national attention after a Christian group, the American Decency Association, labeled the calendar “pornography.”

And naturally, they sold more calendars the next day than they sell in a month.

The calendar as art

“The definition of pornography,” Bill Johnson, the ADA president, told me, citing dictionaries, “… is material created for the purposes of creating a sexual response.”

Well, if so, our entire society is pornographic. Our thumping sexual music. Our billboards of half-naked women. Our TV commercials during games – for beer, cars or male “performance” products.

However, I have a dictionary, too. And when I looked up pornography, it read, “obscene literature, art or photography, especially that having little or no artistic merit.”

Aha.

The women of Automotion would argue their calendar is artistic. Rebecca Girard, the dance team director, said, “The photos are beautiful.” True, one of the beautiful photos features a dancer holding herself because she’s not wearing a top. But then, beauty is in the eye of the, uh, beholder.

Not exactly part of the game

The fact is, both sides have a point. Relatively speaking, images of women stretching out in bathing suits are so common in America, the word “pornographic” seems over the top. Other sports teams, as Girard points out, have dancers and calendars. And the Automotion calendar is sold only to customers older than 18 (although you can order it on the Internet).

On the other hand, Johnson is right when he asks, what does any of this have to do with basketball? The dancers aren’t cheerleaders, unless you believe wearing Ben Wallace’s number on your halter as you bump and slither is cheering.

Baseball doesn’t have dancers. Neither does hockey. So you can’t argue that “it’s a part of the game.”

But it is part of the racket. Sexiness is the surest way to sell anything in this country. Beer companies use it to sell their beer. Casinos use it to sell gambling. The Palace uses it to sell the entertainment experience. The dancers use it to, as Girard said, further the “modeling, acting and business opportunities” that come their way.

The fact is, you could no easier untangle sex from pro sports than you could untape an athlete’s ankle. Pistons president Tom Wilson points out that the franchise had a dance team, the Classy Chassis, back in the ’70s. “Some people love it, some don’t,” he said. “You either show too much, or you show too little.”

Personally, I salute the players. While some men drool and some groups see Satan in spandex, the players go out there every night and never even look up. Maybe that’s our problem. After all these years, we still don’t focus.

Contact MITCH ALBOM at 313-223-4581 or malbom@freepress.com.

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